There are a few inexplicable things currently happening in Australian sport. There’s cyclist Sean Eadie’s controversial beard. There’s AFL star Shane Crawford’s consistent nude appearances and relentless banging on about his metrosexuality. And then there’s the rampaging publicity given to a tiny corner of a big, silly art piece that questions Ian Thorpe’s sexuality.

Yes, I’m talking about that piece of art. The one which, according to furious newspaper art critics, also features a pic of our Nic squatting above a picture of poo. That art, which has reignited the eternal is he/isn’t he Ian Thorpe debate.

Poor Thorpie. He’s a great swimmer, and while I’m not personally a big fan of his jocks, they look about as good as all of the other fancy pants currently holding up rich blokes’ packages. He’s also very young, very famous, and very publicly heterosexual.

Ian Thorpe made a decision to come out as straight in an ABC radio interview in 2002. He said the rumours about him being gay were flattering and he recognised why people would think he was something other than the typical Aussie male. Media outlets called off their gossip columnists who had been circling and waiting for Thorpie’s first big night out.

In the gay media, Thorpe’s disclosure has been respected. The Star’s Marcus O’Donnell told journalists Thorpe’s openness about the rumours, and the way he had tackled the questions without a hint of gay bashing, would make him even more of a gay icon. But in the wider news world, his straight self-outing has always seemed like a challenge. Television news segments about Ian’s undies always linger around the models’ bulges. His enthusiasm for pearls is also a favourite joke.

And now, in the last minutes before he’s expected to go to Athens and be all things to all Australians, there’s that art. SSO arts writer Tim Benzie went to Melbourne last weekend and happened upon the piece. As the scandalous news had been on the front page of Melbourne’s dailies, he knew there was a Thorpie reference in it. But he had to get someone to point it out to him. It’s that small, and that confronting.

For the record, artists Natalie Starr and Alexandra Sanderson say the exhibition is a joke. What we’re commenting on is the speculation that surrounds him and the trashy interest in it, Starr told reporters. Fair enough.

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